History of squash
A relatively new game, squash was developed during the 1850s by the boys of the Harrow boarding school just outside London. Its origins are to be found in the game of rackets, which was a version of tennis played by singles or teams against a wall usually with smaller tennis racquets and a hard ball. To this, the boys at Harrow’s added the innovation of a small vulcanized rubber ball, with a shorter type of rocket coming as a later development to keep up with the cramped conditions the game was played in.
The rubber ball’s unpredictable flying trajectory added a new dimension to the old game of rackets, so new names were found for it, such as “baby racquets,” “soft racquets,” and finally, “squash racquets.” The etymology of the last one is uncertain, some considering it to be purely onomatopoeic, while others find a root for it in a Harrow’s ritual where the coach of the cricket team was shoved between other kids assembled in the courtyard, which was sometimes referred to as “getting squashed.”
The game quickly becomes popular, and in 1865, when three open courts are built at Harrow for handball (rugby five), they are used by the students for playing squash, making them the first squash fields in the world.
The sport will gradually leave the confines of Harrow, with former students building private courts on their residences as early as 1867 and the first public court being erected at the Lord’s pavilion in London in 1890.
By this date, other English public schools picked up squash, most notably Rugby and Elstree, with their alumni further spreading the sport. Courts will be built at the Bath Club in 1894, at the Queen’s Club in 1905 and at the Royal Automobile Society Club in Pall Mall. The first Scottish squash club will be founded in 1908, in Aberdeen.
The game is introduced to America in 1884 by James Conover, a teacher at St. Paul’s School in Concord, who takes the inspiration of building courts similar to the ones at Harrow’s from his college roommate, an alumn of the institution.
The first ever squash tournament will be held in Boston just six years later, on the Rugby five courts of the Boston Athletic Association and won by the US national tennis champion at the time, Richard D. Sears (further cementing the connection between the two racquet sports).
The American east coast elite, especially in and around Philadelphia, proved very quick to take to the sport and a whole series of firsts will come from the US in the following years:
In 1901 “The Game of Squash,” which is the first book dedicated to the sport is published in New York under the authorship of Eustace Miles. By 1903, squash was popular enough for the first interclub league to be founded in Philadelphia by seven original members. This will quickly expand into a national governing body by 1904 and hold its first professional event the same year, numbering six entries.
The first US nationals are to be held in 1907 in Philadelphia and won by a local doctor, John Miskey. Later the same year, professional squash player Fred Tompkins of the Racquet Club in Philadelphia is credited with inventing the game of squash doubles (now known as hardball doubles) and building the world’s first dedicated court.
The game was slower to be officialized in England, with the first subcommittee dedicated to regulating it formed in 1908, as part of the Tennis and Rackets Association. Since squash was mostly seen as a pastime, standardization was not a priority, and during its existence, the subcommittee only agreed on the physical properties preferred for the ball — fast but not too bouncy.
A proper regulatory body was to form in 1923. It will decide upon a slow ball as the standard and an official size for a squash court — 32 x 21 feet. Lack of standardization didn’t stop the first British squash championship to be held three years earlier, with representatives from England, Scotland, and Ireland. In 1922, the first ever Women’s Championship is held at the Queen’s Club in London.
The Lapham Cup, the world’s first annual international match is played the same year with participants from US and Canada.
As a sport of the elites, amenities for playing squash were provided on the new luxury ocean liners which were in vogue during the early part of the 20th century, but also on some military vessels to be played by officers and VIPs. The RMS Titanic was known to be outfitted with two squash courts on the F and G decks.
Squash is going to be practiced more and more as a collegiate sport during the 1920s, with the first notable match being played between Harvard and Yale in 1923, followed by Oxford and Cambridge in England a few years later.
The first professional association for squash is to be formed in Boston, New England in 1925, as a forebear of today’s National Professional Squash Association. However, the first international regulatory body follows the initiative of the British Squash Rackets Association, who convenes with representatives from Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Egypt, India, Pakistan, South Africa and the US to form the International Squash Rackets Federation.
The first game of squash to be televised takes place at the US Open in Pittsburgh (1959), which starts a trend for squash courts to be designed with large windows and transparent walls in order to facilitate camera access.